According to Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), the rules of reasoning carry with them moral implications.
The father of logic, Aristotle viewed proper reasoning as ordered thought. Through careful, logical reasoning a person could arrive at rational and truthful conclusions. He concluded that the “truth” about reality cannot be separated from the moral “good.”
Christians also believe that truth cannot be separated from moral goodness. Thus, apologetic engagement should be characterized by a sense of fair play and evenhandedness on the apologist’s behalf. Christians should prize and pursue truth at all costs, but that means a commitment to intellectual integrity. It is more important to apprehend the truth than to win an argument, especially when the winning is done in a specious way.
In parts 5 and 6 of this series, I explored four of the six practices for apologetic fairness:
Six Practices for Apologetic Fairness
1. Identify Central Tenets of a Belief System. 2. Affirm Positive Features of a Belief System. 3. Quote the Most Authoritative Sources. 4. Give the Critiqued Belief System the Benefit of the Doubt.
In wrapping up the series on the golden rule of apologetics, I want to discuss two final points that can help believers exhibit fair-mindedness.
5.Allow a Review of Your Analysis.
Some sixteen years ago I coauthored a book entitled The Cult of the Virgin . This book examined the Roman Catholic view of the Virgin Mary from a Protestant evangelical perspective. Desiring to be fair in my critique of Catholic beliefs, I suggested to my coauthor that we ask a Roman Catholic scholar to write a response to our book within its pages.
Some Protestants were greatly disturbed that we let a Catholic respond to our work. However, I thought it was a bold step in attempting to achieve scholarly fairness. In the process I learned a great deal about Catholicism by interacting with a friend who is a Jesuit scholar. And I think the readers of our book greatly benefited from our attempt at evenhandedness. I, therefore, strongly recommend that Christian apologists get input from the people who hold the positions that they are critiquing.
6. List Sources that Defend the Critiqued Belief System.
Another way to strive toward fairness is to make sure your analysis of other systems includes a list of sources that aggressively defend the thesis you are critiquing. Citing the best sources on the other side of the apologetic divide shows you are aware of the best arguments against your position and are willing to encourage others to examine them. This models the principle of fair play and honesty.
It is not easy to follow these practices to ensure apologetic fairness. Maybe we should view them as ideals to strive toward. Sometimes you may be able to accomplish only a couple of them. But they are worth working toward.
Striving to keep the golden rule of apologetics can help Christians focus on intellectual integrity. Apologetics is a challenging enterprise but it is a necessary venture and can produce fruitful results, especially when it is done with integrity and with a winsome spirit.
For more on building intellectual virtue in the area of apologetics, see chapters 3-4 of my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.